The church of the willfully ignorant

I’m starting to dig into the prophet Micah’s words in my devotions and have come to an interesting little passage in chapter two. Micah is pronouncing upcoming judgment for Israel and Samaria for their sins (namely, idol worship and gross abuse of power), and the false prophets of these nations bristle at these statements.

So [the false prophets] said to Micah, “Do not preach! One should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.” (2:6)

In other words, they’re incensed that Micah is pointing out their sins and that these sins will have dire consequences. They are content to wallow in active ignorance of the upcoming doom instead of facing the truth head-on.

It’s what I like to call “The Church of the Willfully Ignorant,” and this passage is a terrific microcosm example of a serious problem among both believers and non-believers.

The thing is, we like to be told affirming statements about our life. That we’re not that bad. That we’re doing OK. That we are loved. Pour on the encouragement from the pulpit and people eat it up. And it’s certainly not wrong to be rightfully told that God loves us and that we should encourage each other, but when we abruptly stop at the hard stuff, the stuff that makes us take a long, hard look at our lives, we put a quick end to the path of salvation.

Talking about hell and destruction from the pulpit makes no friends. Nor does being blunt about our nature as sinners who are wholly incapable of redeeming ourselves from the rightful wrath of God. Mention these, and people bristle. They claim offense and fear-mongering, but what is really going on is a rebellion against the truth. We know it’s the truth, and we have a choice when faced with it: willfully ignoring it to the point of self-delusion and denial, or embracing it even though it is profoundly uncomfortable.

Micah isn’t merely criticizing and castigating people here; he’s warning them of the very real consequences that their choices have caused. He knows he’s making no friends, but that’s the thing about love: When you care about people, you tell them the hard truth instead of the easy-to-swallow lie, especially if there’s a chance that it might save them from further pain and possible death. You get past the worry that you might offend them because awkward feelings are of little importance when lives and souls are at stake.

This reaction by the false prophets of Micah’s time are echoed throughout the Bible. Jesus and the apostles experience it several times. We see crowds happily following Jesus for the miracles, excitement, and uplifting teaching. But when he calls for repentance, when he tells them that following him means bearing their cross, some get offended and leave. Micah has a great response to the false prophets in verse 7:

“Should this be said, O house of Jacob? Has the Lord grown impatient? Are these his deeds? Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?”

He’s throwing his arms wide and asking them if he’s lying. Deep down, they know he’s not. They just don’t like hearing it said out loud. But Micah goes on to point out that these uncomfortable words will “do good” to those who follow God.

Listen, I hate having my sin pointed out to me as much as anyone else. I have a thin skin and I’m quite aware of my failings. But when it’s done out of love and not spitefulness, it can be a good thing. The Spirit can and does convict me, loving fellow believers have rebuked me, and the Bible serves as a hard reality check for my life. And each time I have that choice of rejecting or accepting the truth.

But here’s the thing: Even though embracing that truth is initially painful, it does “do good,” as Micah says, in the end. It puts me on a path to repenting. It helps me identify what parts of my life I need God’s help adjusting. It hopefully uproots the little sins before they can blossom into big ones.

Or, we could flock to the liers. Micah gets a good dig into the crowd in 2:11:

“If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”

I’d rather have a real minister in my life than a party-loving fraud who’s trying to coddle my oh-so-delicate feelings. My prayer is that the church would too.

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